Spy Radio

Since before the time of Sun Tzu, communications has played an important role in the collection of intelligence. With the advent of effective portable radio technology in the 1930’s, it became feasible for an operative to send and receive information quickly and independently from within enemy territory.


The purpose of this research paper is to document facts, observations, anecdotes, and stories about clandestine radio equipment as used by the United States. The specific equipment presented here was chosen either because it had a major role in clandestine work, or because sufficient information was available to the author. Pictures and brief descriptions of additional equipment can be found in books by H. Keith Melton (see the Bibliography); and also at various sites on the World Wide Web.

Spy Radio




The SSTR-1 Strategic Services Transmitter-Receiver

The “Joan-Eleanor” System

Other OSS Equipment

Early Military Equipment

The RT-1-B and URT-11 Transmitters

The RT-4 Transmitter

Radio Station RS-1

RT-3 Variants

The GRC-109 Transceiver

The RS-5 HF Transceiver

The RS-6 HF Transceiver

The RS-511 Attache Case Radio

The GRA-71 Coder – Burst Transmission Unit

The RS-8 HF Radio Set

The AS-3 HF Radio Set

The RS-48 HF Radio Set

The RS-49 HF Radio Set

The Delco 5300 Series HF Transceiver 

Modular Radio Station (PRC-52)

TAR-224 Transceiver

The “Village Radios”

RDR Corp., N.Y.C.

Observed Serial Numbers

Mystery Radios

Selected Foreign Sets

Encryption via a One-Time Pad

Training, Tradecraft and Technology

Surveillance and Bugging Devices

Signals Intelligence

A Home-made “Agent Radio”

Miscellaneous Non-radio Items

References/Bibliography, Miscellaneous, and Notes


This document is dedicated to the men and women who

served our country as the designers and users of

clandestine communications equipment.

Wherever possible, this document goes into technical detail on the equipment, and some conclusions are drawn regarding the intended purpose for certain features. Some comments are made of a practical nature, for those people that own one of these sets and would like to restore it or use it for Amateur Radio communications.

Is it real “Spy Equipment”?

While researching the equipment described on these pages, sometimes it is not entirely clear if an item is really qualified to be called “spy equipment”. I believe that there are many possible criteria for labeling an item as being “OSS” or “CIA”. This becomes important to someone who is considering buying or selling such an item. Following are some ideas of possible criteria that could be used to decide the legitimacy of an item. I will use the CIA to illustrate these examples:

1.  The item was designed (in whole or in part) by CIA personnel. Example: The RS-1 set.

2.  The item was designed by a contractor, but to CIA specifications. Possible examples include many of the later Cold War sets.

3.  The item was a commercial item, but was bought under a specific CIA contract. Example: Certain SP-600 receivers.

4.  The item was actually constructed by CIA personnel. This criterion probably applies mostly to prototypes.

5.  The item has a CIA-specific designation – typically RS-x, RR-x or RT-x.

6.  The item was “standard issue” to a number of CIA employees. Example: The Minox model “B” camera.

7.  The item was adopted from a different intelligence organization, including foreign (such as SOE or MI-6), but widely used by CIA personnel.

8.  The item was adopted from the military, but widely used by CIA personnel. Example: The GN-58 hand-crank generator often used with the RS-1 set.

9.  The item was adopted by the military from an existing CIA item. Examples: The AN/GRC-109 and RS-6 sets.

10.The item was carried/used by a CIA employee.

11.The item was carried/used by a famous CIA employee.

12.The item is known to have been used in a specific spy operation.


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